Thursday, May 1, 2008
(San Diego mayoral candidates participate at a forum at USD on April 30, 2008.
Alison St John/KPBS
The Primary election for everything except the Presidential race is less than a month away, and the San Diego mayor's race is heating up. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more on what the candidates had to say at a mayoral forum last night at the University of San Diego.
The most serious threat to incumbent mayor Jerry Sanders is businessman Steve Francis, who is massively outspending the mayor by paying millions of dollars of his own money for TV ads. Francis earned the first laugh of the evening.
Francis: I mean, I'm really the underdog here. I'm going up against the machine. I'm going up against a PR machine this city has never seen.
Sanders argues his almost daily press conferences are the fulfillment of a promise he made during his first campaign for mayor, when he beat Francis.
Sanders: I'm pretty proud of the way that we have communicated with the public and that's one of the things that I promised in the last campaign -- that I would communicate on things that go well and things that don't go well and I've given out a lot of bad information, not something that an incumbent mayor normally likes to give out.
In past press conferences of his own, Francis has made it clear seeing millions of his own money going out the door is not something he likes very much. But he argues that by not accepting any contributions, he is independent of special interests, and yesterday he issued the mayor a challenge.
Francis: You've raised almost half a million dollars -- over 60,000 has come from people or employees or clients of lobbying firms that who do business with the city of San Diego. Can you at least today join me and not take any money from anybody who is doing business with the city of San Diego, at least you can do that?
Sanders: I would be willing to accept Mr. Francis's pledge if he would shut his check book - put the $4 million back in his checkbook, get rid of all of his ads. If he wants to do this based on $320,000 donations .. You don't buy a lot of influence with $320,000.
Sanders says $320,000 is the lowest campaign contribution limit for any mayor's race in a big U.S. city . He says more than 8,000 donors have supported him financially in his last campaign and this one. Sanders says Francis' strategy demonstrates elitism rather than independence.
Sanders: What this amounts to is Steve is saying only wealthy people can run for office.
Defying this logic, mayoral candidate Erik Bidwell openly admitted he has only about $300 dollars in his campaign war chest. Disarmingly honest and sporting dreadlocks, Bidwell, who is 25, is described on the ballot as an "entrepreneur" because he sells tee shirts.
Bidwell: I would argue that I definitely bring something to the table in that I don't know how things are done as usual.
Bidwell says he doesn't mind taking the risk of being politically incorrect.
Bidwell: I think that raising taxes might be a pretty obvious thing that San Diego needs to do - if that's the case, I think we need to go ahead and start paying a little more for our city.
Here Bidwell offers a real alternative to voters. Both Sanders and Francis agree they won’t raise revenues with taxes -- at least not until they've got the city finances sorted out.
The forth candidate at the debate, Floyd Morrow, a democrat, agrees taxes are already too high. He'd turn to the federal governments for more revenues.
Morrow: We can’t continue to ignore the gorilla if you will in our play pen, we shouldn't be in Iraq.
Morrow talks about working together with federal, state and local governments to divert the billions being spent on the war to solve problems at the local level. Morrow is at the other end of the experience spectrum from Bidwell.
Morrow: I bring to the table about 20 years of public experience.
Twelve of those years were as a San Diego city councilman in the late 60s and 70s.
The final candidate in the mayors race, James Hart, didn't show up at the forum . While there are five candidates in the race, incumbent mayor Jerry Sanders and Steve Francis and are widely seen as the frontrunners
In closing statements, Francis talked about vision..
Francis: I want to take the best ideas of republicans and democrats, of labor and of business, of young of old, Let's all come together, have a vision and work towards that, let's quit fighting.
But, says mayor Sanders, that's easier said than done. He goes back to "actions speak louder than words."
Sanders: I can't just stand up here and talk about visions and how I would do things. I have to talk about what I've done. Today I've talked about the steady progress we've made as a city in getting the city's finances back on track, an open honest city budget, you have to do that, you cant just talk about it.
But there'll be plenty more talk leading up to the June 3rd election. With five candidates in the race, if nobody gets more than 50 percent, there could well be a run-off in November.
Alison St John, KPBS News.